This is a message about Jonah the prophet. 2 Kings 14:25 tells us he was a prophet from Gath-heper near Nazareth in Galilee. The Pharisees were wrong when they told Nicodemus, in John 7:52, "Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."
In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus treated Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish as an actual fact.
Timewise, Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel
(793-753 B.C.). Jereboam II restored the power of Israel over most of the territory north of Judah which had been controlled by Solomon when Judah and Israel were still one nation.
God sent Jonah to the Gentile land of Assyria to preach, all the other Jewish prophets were sent to their home lands of Israel and Judah. Amos and Hosea prophesied that God would use Assyria as an instrument of punishment against the Israelites and Assyria was a constant threat to the people of Israel. Nineveh was a byword for evil to the Israelites because of their ruthless cruelty in war. Jonah thought one Jew, namely himself, preaching to the Ninevites, was foolishness, almost suicide.
God gave Jonah one of the shortest sermons on record but also one of the most effective. Assyrian history records a plague of some sort in 765 B.C., an eclipse of the sun in 763 B.C., and a second plague in 759 B.C. God may have sent these things as warnings to help prepare the people of Nineveh for Jonahís message.
Instead of obeying God and going to preach to the citizens of Nineveh, Jonah responded by sailing in the opposite direction for Tarshish in Spain. As a typical Jew, Jonah would have hated Gentiles and would have rejoiced in God judging them no matter how severely. Rather than preach to heathens, Jonah thought he had a better idea. He would take a few days off and go on a Mediterranean cruise! God had other plans and He dampened Jonahís spirits and his body as well. You canít thwart Godís plans. You can refuse the privilege of doing His bidding and forego an eternal reward and it will go to someone else. Either way, Godís plans will prevail.
Jewish nationalism has blinded God's covenant people to the fact that God has concern for the Gentiles. This prophet learned that "salvation is of the Lord" and that God's offer of salvation goes out to all who repent and turn to Him.
Chapters 1 and 2 of Jonah show the power of God in nature, and chapters 3 and 4 show the mercy of God in human affairs.
Jonah is the only prophet Jesus likened to Himself and in Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus said Jonah's experience was a picture of Christ's own death, burial, and resurrection.
In contrast to the other prophetical books, emphasis here is on the messenger rather than the message. Jonah was the only Old Testament prophet sent directly to the Gentiles and the only prophet who tried to conceal his message. Jonahís book reveals Godís concern for all men more than any other Old Testament book. Nineveh responded better to the preaching of Jonah than Israel and Judah ever responded to any of the prophets.
Of all the people and things mentioned in this book, only Jonah failed to obey God. The storm, the lots that were cast, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the plant, the worm, and the east wind all obeyed God.
In the last two verses of the book, God's compassion for all men is contrasted with Jonah's lack of compassion for his fellow man.
Jonah 4:10-11. ďThen said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
11: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?Ē
Letís read part of the account from chapter one of Jonah.
Jonah 1:1: Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2: Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
3: But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4: But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
5: Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
6: So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
7: And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
8: Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
9: And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
10: Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11: Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
12: And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
13: Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
14: Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
15: So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16: Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
17: Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
A number of miracles are recorded in the book. God calmed the sea before the crew lost their lives (1:15), God had already made provision for a great fish to swallow and yet preserve Jonah (1:17). In chapter 2 we have Jonah, still alive and praying from the fishís belly, and God answering his prayer and the fish depositing Jonah on dry land (2:10).
JONAH 2:1-2. Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 2: And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
JONAH 2:9-10. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. 10: And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land."
The greater miracle wasnít that a fish could swallow a man but that Jonah wasnít digested by the acids that normally work in the stomach of a fish. He was vomited out of the fishes belly and returned to his former state. This pictures the nation of Israel swallowed up by the Gentile world for over 2500 years and yet able to retain itís identity and again become a nation in 1948.
The miracles continue in chapter 4 with Godís preparation of the gourd (4:6), the worm (4:7), and the wind (4:8); and the salvation of thousands of Ninevites.
After three days in a belly of the fish where he probably did a lot of praying, Jonah consented to do as God said but his heart wasnít in it and he wished for the destruction of Nineveh.
The events of chapter two would make anybody pray. It takes a lot sometimes to make us pray and seek to do Godís will. At one time or another, most of us have felt like we were in the belly of a fish, but how do we act once we get out of our fish's belly? Does it change our lifestyle? Do we try to serve God the way He chooses? Do we think about others first?
In Chapter three, Jonah, like all of us, has been given a second chance. He went to Ninevah and preached a clear message of the coming destruction of that huge city and, to his surprise, the king and all the people repented and got saved. Jonah's message must have been like a tremendous thunder storm to that guilty city and it produced results that have never been equaled since.
Poor old Noah preached for 120 years and produced, at the most, seven converts. Jonah only preached for three days and he didnít give a message laced with quotations from learned men, just Godís word that if the Ninevites didnít repent they would suffer Godís judgment, and the result was that thousands got saved.
I think Jonah liked preaching a sermon of doom to the people of Nineveh and thatís not right. It should be the believerís pleasure to preach God's love to friend and foe alike, to tell them about the salvation God offers to save us from the judgment caused by sin.
God saw the city repent and withdrew His anger toward them. The same grace of God that had saved Jonah saved these people who were the enemy of His Chosen People, Israel.
Jonah was the typical Israelite of his day. He was jealous of his heritage as one of Godís chosen people and didnít want to share that with a heathen nation. He would rather see their annihilation than their reception into the Kingdom of God and he didnít understand the grace of God.
Jonahís commission to reach the unsaved is the Old Testament version of the great commission that Jesus gives the believer in the New Testament. We are Godís representatives to bring the Gospel to even our worst enemies and to tell them how God loves them and wants to save them.
Jonahís message brought forgiveness to the Ninevites and the purpose of the book of Jonah is to show that God's love and forgiveness is available to all mankind.
We know a young man in the service in Baghdad and he reported that the daytime temperature there reached 140 degrees one day. Nineveh was near there and so God gave this prophet a plant to shade him in the heat of the day only to have a worm destroy it. Then Jonah had his own private pity party and wished he was dead because the shade was gone. He saw the value of a plant to himself but not the value of the saving grace of God to thousands of unsaved people.
Remember, Jonah was to present God to a Gentile city. The whole nation of Israel was chosen to present God to the Gentile world. That why they are called ďGodís chosen people.Ē
Letís go back a few centuries in time from Jonah and see how they were chosen of God.
Before the flood in Noah's day, man in general sinned against God and broke all moral and social laws. Genesis 6:5 "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Godís remedy was the destruction of the race.
Verses 6-8. "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Thatís the first time Godís grace is mentioned in the Bible. Without the grace of God, all of mankind would have been lost and gone to hell in the flood and the world would have been devoid of mankind.
After the flood, idolatry and self-worship soon came in and man thought he was in control of his own destiny. Out of this idolatry God called Abram from the Ur of Chaldees. God placed him at the crossroads of the world for a three-fold purpose.
(1). Abram was to father the nation who would be entrusted with the knowledge of His Name and His purposes. Joshua 24:2-3. "And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, 5. even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac."
(2). Our Redeemer, the "Promised Seed," would come through the Children of Israel. Galatians 3:16 "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."
(3). Israel was chosen to be Godís messenger to make Him known to the Gentile nations. Romans 3:1-2 "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." This is where Jonah becomes involved, to preach to the Gentiles.
Thatís why the queen of Sheba came to King Solomon, to learn about the God of Israel and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 went to Jerusalem, to learn about Israelís God.
Israel has refused to perform her God given task of making God known to all men and Jonah refused to go on his God-given mission to the Gentile Ninevites.
Israel put on a mantle of exclusiveness, and called the Gentiles "dogs," and refused to carry out her mission in both the Old and the New Testament. John 4:9. "Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."
The Lord dealt with this same attitude in the life of Peter in Acts 10 and 11 and sent Peter to the Gentile Centurian, Cornelieus. He would never have gone preaching to the Gentiles if God hadnít intervened in his life.
God punished Jonah by casting him into the sea when he disobeyed and Israel was cast into the sea of nations and scattered when they disobeyed God.
Deuteronomy 28:9 says "The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways." The blessings all hinged on one word, ďif.Ē They disobeyed God and the history of the Jewish people can be seen in verses 63-67 of Deuteronomy 28. They had no home land for millennia because of their disobedience. Even a skeptic of the Bible can see the accuracy of God's word in reference to the historical plight of the Jewish people.
VERSES 63-67: ďAnd it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
64: And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.
65: And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind:
66: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life:
67: In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.Ē
It was a miracle by God that Jonah was preserved in the whale's belly and God made sure that Jonah was alive to complete what He had given him to do. The greater miracles is the preservation of Israel who has been scattered among the Gentile nations for centuries and yet retained itís identity because God has a purpose still future for Israel to fulfill.
This is a greater miracle than the preservation of Jonah.
Jonah was called by God a second time to go on his mission. Israel will be called a second time to fulfill her mission. When Ezekiel saw the bones come together in the valley of dry bones, that was a type of the nation of Israel coming together as a nation. On May 14, 1948, Israel, although spiritually dead, became a nation once again.
Try as he might, Jonah couldnít cancel God's plan and after a horrifying experience he was willing to go when God called the second time. Israel will be willing to carry out her mission at her second call, but only after they suffer the horrifying experience of the ďGreat Tribulation.Ē
The resemblance between Jonahís experience and the nation of Israel is too similar to be accidental. Every word of Jonah is true. God was using him to paint a still greater picture of Israel and their future.
Jonah reluctantly held one of the greatest evangelistic meetings in world history. God blessed the message rather than the messenger. He came away angry that God would spare those wicked Ninevites but he learned first hand of Godís love and compassion for all mankind.
In the final chapter God used a plant, a worm, and a wind to teach Jonah a lesson in compassion. Jonah was forced to see that his SELFISH CONCERN FOR HIMSELF, and the shade of a plant seemed greater to him than the eternal welfare of the souls of hundreds of thousands of people.
Thereís a moral to this story. God wants the believer to serve Him willingly and to the best of our ability whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. The rewards are eternal.